HARRISVILLE — The driver of the car involved in a fatal accident last year with a pedestrian, spurring a local lawmaker’s push to toughen the penalties against those who drive after using marijuana, has been fined $680.
She also received a suspended six-month jail term and a year of probation in the incident at her sentencing on Wednesday at Harrisville Justice Court. What’s more, she can’t use illegal drugs, according to sentencing documents.
Krystal Sly was the driver of a car that hit and killed Brittany Zoller on Nov. 21, 2018, while Zoller was walking across U.S. 89 in Harrisville. Sly tested positive for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, indicative of marijuana use, and she was subsequently charged with a misdemeanor count of driving with a measurable quantity of a controlled substance in her body, a misdemeanor.
Concerned the potential repercussions for Sly didn’t match the magnitude of the incident and spurred by another fatal accident in Utah County also involving a driver who had THC in her system, Utah Rep. Steve Waldrip sprung into action. He revealed plans in September to pursue legislation in the 2020 legislative session to make the penalties tougher on those who drive after using pot. On Thursday, in the wake of Sly’s sentencing, he said by phone that he’s been meeting with law enforcement officials, county prosecutors and advocates of marijuana’s legalization for additional input.
At a minimum, he said, he’d seek adjustments to existing legislation to make the penalties for those who drive after using marijuana on par with the penalties for drunk driving. A limiting factor in his efforts, though, Waldrip said, is the lack of research on the effects of pot use, insufficient at least compared to the studies on alcohol use.
Zoller’s mom, Kristal Egelund, said Wednesday that she’s not happy, but that the law doesn’t allow for anything tougher. Wednesday’s sentence wouldn’t be changed even if Waldrip succeeds in his efforts.
“The law needs to be changed and I’m going to do my best to get it put in,” said Zoller, who’s been in on-and-off contact with Waldrip on his efforts.
Meantime, Sly’s attorney, Tyler Ayres, said his client had “absolutely nothing to do with this young girl’s death” and he blasted Waldrip as not fully grasping the particulars of the fatal crash. Zoller had a blood-alcohol level at the time of the accident of 0.21%, more than four times the current legal limit for driving in Utah, 0.05%, and Ayres pointed to that as contributing to the incident.
“He doesn’t understand the case in the least,” Ayres said.
Officers responding to the incident say Sly didn’t seem impaired, Ayres said. According to the police report in the matter, Sly was driving under the speed limit, stopped after the accident to aid Zoller and voluntarily submitted to a blood draw.
She tested for eight nanograms per milliliter of blood. But since there were no indications of impairment, necessary for a felony charge, Sly only faced the misdemeanor count, ultimately amended to having a measurable amount of a metabolite in her system, according to court papers.
“It’s a technical violation,” Ayres said, indicative of what was in Sly’s system, not her impairment level.
Aside from Zoller’s blood-alcohol level, Ayres also singled out Zoller’s decision to walk across U.S. 89, a major road, and her apparent use of a cell phone at the time of the nighttime incident, spelled out in the police report.
The crash, Ayers said, has “devastated” Sly and her family.
Egelund, for her part, pointed to the THC in Sly’s system. “Eight nanograms of THC in your system is not a little,” she said. The impairment level spelled out in Nevada law is two nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood, she noted, and five nanograms in Colorado.
Waldrip said he’s heard from Sly, and expressed sympathy with her for the anguish he understands she feels. But he also noted the THC in her system.
There’s no telling now, he said, of how events would have unfolded on Nov. 21 last year had either one of the women been clean of any substance in their bodies.